It is a disorder that eats at you in the mind and the body.
Chronic victims of anorexia nervosa, characterised by an intense fear of becoming fat, may even die, doctors told The New Paper.
The mortality rate for anorexia is about 5 per cent, or one in 20 anorexic patients, said psychiatrist Daniel Fung.
"Usually, this is the result of heart failure and other organ failure, but it may also be due to suicide," said the president of the Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH).
Anorexia usually hits girls around puberty, Dr Fung said.
Figures from Singapore General Hospital (SGH), which started the Eating Disorder Programme in 2003, show the number of teenagers suffering from anorexia or bulimia to have increased from 75 in 2009 to 95 in 2012.
The number of adult patients went up from 40 in 2008 to 70 in 2012.
"This is partly related to the development of self-identity and how that concept of self is linked to physical appearance," Dr Fung said.
"Puberty is when this is important and is also linked to the social milieu in which there may be gender-related stereotypes on what it means to be beautiful."
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness, said: "There are many societal expectations on women to be slim and you have a lot of those media influences. Many times, it could be a result of classmates teasing them about their weight."
The deliberate starving takes a toll on the body. When the body is malnourished, the heart may stop. In severe cases, the patient may die, Dr Fung said.
Dr Lim added that anorexic patients also stop menstruating, which leads to osteoporosis. As victims have a distorted view of their bodies, both doctors emphasised the role of family and friends to step in to help them.
In local medical journal Annals Academy of Medicine, co-author Dr Lee Huei Yen, the director of the Eating Disorder Programme at SGH, said that since many victims are students, it was important to engage parents and school personnel in prevention efforts.
Warning signs of Anorexia Nervosa
Intense fear of weight gain or being fat
Complains about feeling fat despite dramatic weight loss
Absence of menstruation
Extreme concern with body weight and shape
Brittle nails, dry skin
Hair that thins, breaks or falls out
Source: Health Promotion Board
Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH): 1800 283 7019
SAMH runs a Support for Eating Disorders Singapore group in collaboration with Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
It meets every first Thursday of the month, from 7.15pm to 8.45pm, at SGH's Life Centre. Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444
This article was first published on September 04, 2014.
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